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Recipe: Bolivian Soup with Wheat Berries (Sopa de Trigo)

29 Jan

There are probably as many versions of this soup as there are Bolivian families, and all of them likely to be delicious, but this is the version that has evolved at our house over the years. I love the bright-red color that comes from the tomato and chili pastes; it brightens even the coldest, most dreary day. I also love the soup’s many layers of flavor, each one contributing to the overall symphony. It’s even better the next day, so it’s a great make-ahead dish. And it’s very adaptable: make a vegetarian version by eliminating the beef/lamb, adding more veggies, and using vegetable broth/bouillon. Or substitute quinoa for the wheat if gluten is an issue.

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Bolivian Soup with Wheat Berries (Sopa de Trigo)

Wheat/Hominy:
1/3-1/2 c. dry wheat berries/trigo pelado
1 can (14 0z./400 gr.) cooked hominy/mote blanco, undrained
–OR 1/2 c. dried cracked hominy (maiz blanco trillado)–see photo below

½ c. freeze-dried potato/black chuño (optional)

Soup broth:
12 c./3 liters beef broth
1 lb./500 gr. meaty, bone-in beef or lamb
1 large onion, halved
1 large tomato, quartered
2 carrots, peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
beef bouillon cubes (optional)

Soup Vegetables:
3/4 c. petite peas
2 large carrots, julienned
3 large potatoes, julienned (it’s traditional to julienne both the carrots and the potatoes, but I have been know to dice both instead…)

Sofrito:
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 lg. onion, finely diced
1 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1-2 tbsp. red aji (chili) paste (aji colorado/aji panca)–see photo below
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. dried oregano
coarsely ground black pepper, to taste

Toppings:
2 green onions, finely sliced
1 tsbp. finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh oregano
1 tbsp. finely chopped  fresh mint

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Dried cracked hominy

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Red aji (chili) paste

Preparation:

  1. Note: If using  the optional freeze-dried potato/chuño, soak it in warm water overnight prior to making the soup. Before adding it to the soup in step #5, drain it and squeeze as much water out as possible. If necessary, chop into small pieces.
  2. Place the wheat berries (and, if using, the dried hominy) in a medium saucepan, cover with several inches of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 60-90 minutes or until both wheat and hominy are soft. Drain and set aside. If using canned hominy, pre-cook only the wheat, and add the undrained canned hominy to the soup in step #5.
  3. Meanwhile, add the broth and meat/bones to a large pot and bring to a low simmer, skimming periodically until no more foam is produced. Add the halved onion, quartered tomato, halved carrots, and the bay leaves and continue simmering slowly until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes. Check the seasonings and add beef bouillon cubes to taste, if needed.
  4. Remove the beef/lamb to a dish and let cool. Strain the broth through a fine-meshed sieve into a large bowl, mashing the tomato pieces to extract any remaining liquid. Return the broth to the pot and discard the vegetables.
  5. Shred the meat, discarding the bones and any fat, and add the shredded meat to the pot along with 1 c. of the cooked wheat, the hominy, the freeze-dried potato/chuño (if using), and the peas, carrots, and potatoes. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare the sofrito: Heat the olive oil  in a skillet over medium-high heat, add the onion, and cook until soft and slightly golden. Add the remaining ingredients to the skillet and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, to make a fragrant paste. Add the paste to the soup pot, stir to mix, and continue simmering the soup, covered, for 15 minutes or more to develop the flavors and ensure all vegetables are soft. If the soup seems too thick, add more water. If it needs more salt, add another bouillon cube.
  7. Serve with the sliced green onions and herbs sprinkled on top, and with plenty of crusty bread.

Recipe: Wheat Berry Casserole with Italian Sausage, Spinach, and Mozzarella

22 Aug

It was a busy Saturday recently, filled with lots of garden work (me), garage reorganizing (my husband), and room cleaning/packing (youngest son, prior to departing for college). Dinner time rolled around and so did the realization that there wasn’t much food in the house. I had planned to cook that evening, except that I didn’t actually plan anything (a not uncommon occurrence). And seeing as I was still in my gardening outfit (ie, my old painting pants and shirt–the very ones my husband keeps threatening to burn), with streaks of dirt across my forehead, my enthusiasm for a quick trip to the grocery store was nonexistent.

Surely there was something in the cupboards/refrigerator/freezer/garden that could be pulled together for dinner. The freezer yielded some Italian turkey sausages. The refrigerator revealed lots of baby spinach that needed to be used immediately, mozzarella from a recent pizza night, and the Pecorino Romano cheese that always occupies a special spot. The cupboards contained onions, olive oil, and pasta, and the trusty garlic bowl on the counter was full. And there were (and still are) more tomatoes than I know what to do with in the garden.

I immediately envisioned a zesty penne-sausage dish–only to remember we had had pasta the night before. Shucks. I was willing to forget this fact, but the Greek chorus in our house probably would not. And then I saw the wheat berries I had recently bought, and an idea formed…. [Note: this can easily be made vegetarian by eliminating the turkey sausage and adding more veggies.]

Wheat Berry Casserole with Italian Sausage, Spinach, and Mozzarella

1 lb. fresh baby spinach (about 12 c.)
1 large white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1.25 lb. Italian turkey sausages, removed from their casings
3 c. cooked wheat berries (see Note below)
3/4 c. seeded and diced tomato (about 5-6 small Roma tomatoes)
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 c. grated mozzarella
1/2 c. grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Preparation

1. Cook wheat berries as indicated in the Note below; set aside.
2. Heat a skillet over high heat and add the spinach; cook until it has reduced in size and has released most of its liquid; remove from the skillet and drain, pressing as much liquid out as possible. Set aside.
3. In the same skillet, also over high heat, add the olive oil, then the onions. Cook until the onions have softened and are turning golden at the edges. Add the garlic and cook a few more minutes.
4. Add the sausage and cook until no longer pink, breaking up clumps with a spatula. Turn off the heat. Add the reserved spinach and the wheat berries, and mix in well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
6. Layer half the wheat berry/sausage mixture into a 9 x 13 baking pan. Sprinkle with half the mozzarella. Repeat, and sprinkle the Pecorino Romano over the top of the casserole. (See photo below, taken halfway through doing the top layer.)

7. Bake casserole for about 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and slightly golden.

NOTE: Cooking Wheat Berries
Wheat berries triple in volume when cooked. For this recipe, you will need 1 c. uncooked wheat berries. (I double that amount and save the rest of the cooked wheat berries for salads or other recipes later in the week.)


1 c. wheat berries
3 c. water, plus more as needed
1 vegetable or chicken bouillon cube (ideally, without MSG)

Preparation

1. For best flavor, toast the wheat berries over high heat in a dry skillet (no oil), stirring constantly, until some of the berries are beginning to turn golden brown and the berries emit a nice, nutty aroma.

2. While the berries are toasting, bring the 3c. water to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Add the bouillon cube.
3. When the wheat berries are toasted, pour them into the boiling water and cook over high heat for about 50-60 minutes, adding more water as needed (no need to cover the pot, but keep an eye on it). When done, the berries will be al dente.
4. Drain the berries; there should be about 3 c. cooked berries.